Holiday gift card purchases on the rise |

Holiday gift card purchases on the rise

Bridget Manley

— In Maxine DeLong’s opinion, postage is expensive.

Especially during the Christmas season.

Especially when she wants to give gifts to her 12 grandchildren, 11 of whom live out of town.

So, instead of mailing brightly packaged boxes, she plans to save on postage and send a card instead – a plastic card that, at certain stores, is as valuable as cash.

They are called holiday gift cards, and DeLong is not alone in using them.

As family members move away, advancing technology widens the generation gap and postage prices deter some from sending large gift packages, holiday gift cards have become popular Christmas gift options, local retailers say.

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“We’ve been pretty good on (selling) gift cards,” said Sharon Ketchum, head clerk at the Craig Safeway store. “I think it’s more convenient.”

National research shows holiday gift card sales are on the rise.

In 2006, holiday gift card spending totaled $24.8 billion, up from $17.2 billion in 2003, according to a National Retail Federation survey.

The number of people who said they would like to receive gift cards for Christmas increased from 48 percent in 2003 to 52 percent in 2006, according to the survey.

Ketchum said many gift card shoppers are elderly individuals who want to find a desirable gift for children and grandchildren without the hassle of traditional holiday shopping.

Gift cards can also be an alternative for children trying to find a gift for their parents or grandparents, Ketchum said.

“When your 18-year-old doesn’t know what grandma wants, it’s easier” to buy a gift card, Ketchum said. Young shoppers don’t always opt for gift cards. Some chose to buy high-tech gifts for their parents and grandparents.

Yet in Ketchum’s opinion, gift cards make better holiday gifts because they allow recipients to buy what they want – which is better than giving unwanted gifts that get stashed in a closet or sold in next year’s yard sale, she said.

Retailers aren’t the only ones offering gift cards this year. Restaurants and airlines also are selling them.

This year, Safeway carries gift cards for retailers and restaurants, such as The Olive Garden and Red Lobster.

City Market recently expanded its gift card selection to include out-of-town stores, said Gena Mack, assistant store manager.

“We’re seeing an increase in : pre-paid credit cards,” Mack added. She expects to see gift card sales increase in December.

Locally, adult shoppers are turning more to gift card sales when considering buying high-tech gifts for children and grandchildren who live out of town, Ely said.

For adults trying to find the right gift for their more technically savvy children, the card usually wins out. When unsure shoppers presented the option of either buying a gift in-store or purchasing a gift card, “about 70 percent go with the gift card,” Ely said.

For parents, pre-paid cards have a double advantage: they allow their children to buy what they really want for Christmas while also limiting that spending to the amount placed on the card.

Popular high-tech gifts

• Global Positioning System units

• Laptops

• DVD players

• Surround sound stereo systems